A two week food tour through Portugal has left me with quite the longing for its cuisine now that I’m back in London and not marathon eating on a daily basis. My addiction to pasteis de nata has been easy enough to feed since the delightfully eggy tart can be found in most London cafes but the craving for family style dishes like a fragrant arroz de pato (Portuguese duck rice) and a zingy cataplana (seafood stew) is harder to sate. As soon as time permits, I’ll be on the search for these dishes in a good London-based Portuguese restaurant (recommendations are welcome!).
Adega Velha | Rua Dr. Joaquim José de Vasconcelos Gusmão, 13, Mourão
During a short pit stop for petiscos in small town Mourão at Adega Velha, a part of Portugal revealed itself to us. The adega (tavern) operates in a 300 year old house where locals – mostly older gentlemen – stop in daily for a tipple and to gossip with close friends and long time neighbors.
Cigarette smoke filled the bar area, copious amounts of house-made red wine and licor de poejo (liquer made of herbs) were drunk, my shutter worked over time falling in love with the dignified faces of these Portuguese gentlemen (pictured below) when in another corner of the room, a local man broke out in song a cappella, later joined by his fellow friends for a verse. I have no idea what they were singing but that raw and unorchestrated moment surrounded by giant vats of housemade wine is my favorite memory of Portugal.
Café Correia | Rua Primeiro de Maio 4, 8650, Vila do Bispo
This family style restaurant is where I had not seconds but thirds of the huge pot of massa de peixes (pasta with fish soup, as picture below on left) that was generously left on our table. The ingredients seem simple enough: elbow macaroni, chunks of monkfish, an herb bouquet, onions and a fresh tomato base but it was the touch of magic by Chef Correia (pictured below, isn’t he just so cute?!) and the use of fresh local ingredients that would lead me to travel to Vila do Bispo just to have this dish again. It tasted like the pure comfort of home, regardless of where you’re from.
Another dish of note is the lightly sautéed octopus in olive oil. Portugal has completely changed my regard for octopus. Too often I’ve suffered through octopus that tasted of plastic. It turns out the eight legged creature can be quite meaty in texture with a satisfying bite. Throughout the tour this simple octopus dish never failed to please.
Gadanha Mercearia | Largo Dragões de Olivença 84, 7100-457 Estremoz
By the time we reached Gadanha Mercearia, a restaurant that is also joined by a small market that sells locally produced food items, I’ve enjoyed about 4 different bacalhao (cod) dishes in other parts of Portgual. The herb crusted cod loin served with spinach and potatoes at Gadanha Mercearia was among the most memorable bacalhau – a dish of texture and elegance. Our plate of assorted meats was also popular among the table of happy eaters as was the bite sized farinheira (fatty part of a pork sausage from Alentejo) with sautéed spinach and fried quail eggs. The pièce de résistance came in the form of dessert: chocolate ganache with dark chocolate cake balanced with orange sorbet and tangerine jam. Flavors from each element was equally robust but played its part perfectly to round out the tartness of the sorbet, slight bitterness of the ganache and sweetness from the icing sugar & cake.
Trust me when I say there were many other restaurants & meals that also deserve a mention and hopefully I’ll have time to revisit them soon. If you do find yourself in Portugal be sure to try one of these restaurants and have some petiscos for me!
Note: the Portugal Food Stories trip was organized & sponsored by Aptece. All views are my own.